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After Domestic Recovery, All Eyes Are Now On India’s International Traffic

While the COVID pandemic was brutal on the aviation sector in general, international travel was hit harder due to border restrictions globally. Given its size, India has a healthy appetite for domestic flights, and airlines have made a faster recovery for flights within the country.



And while international travel has been slower to pick up for obvious reasons, it is now showing signs of reaching pre-pandemic numbers, with Indian and international carriers restoring their networks due to increased demand.

Slower growth

The overall growth of international traffic to and from India has been slower in comparison to domestic travel. Airlines have taken longer to restore international networks as demand for overseas travel has been trailing the domestic sector.

The Airports Authority of India revealed that international travelers handled at Indian airports did breach the pre-pandemic mark in July this year, but cumulative data for the April-July period is still 2.5% lower than the same period in 2019. In contrast, domestic travel was 11% up during this time.

Emirates Boeing 777-300 landing at O'Hare International Airport

Photo: Carlos Yudica / Shutterstock

Mint cites data from India’s tourism ministry for the first quarter of this financial year (April-June) and says that while the number of Indians going abroad has increased, those coming into India are still 13% less than the same period in 2019.

An airport-wise analysis reveals that those in the northern and western regions of India have made some improvement and handled more passengers from April to June this year than the same quarter four years ago. But airports in the south are still down 7% compared to 2019.

Gradually increasing

However, current trends suggest that the overall financial year 2024 will be better for India’s international market compared to the last few years. Credit ratings agencies India Ratings and Research, and ICRA both suggest that the country’s international traffic will surpass the 2019 level by March next year.

Air India and Vistara aircraft parked at Delhi Airport

Photo: Harsh – S | Shutterstock

In fact, ICRA says that overseas passenger traffic for Indian airlines has already crossed the 2019 mark, and the country’s airlines will drive the overall numbers up. Indeed, Air India is increasingly adding more flights to Europe and North America, while IndiGo and Vistara are leading the expansion in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

International carriers restore network

But what about foreign carriers? India has gradually seen the network restoration of several overseas airlines in the last year. Malaysia Airlines is one such example. In July, it was revealed that India was the carrier’s top market when it was already above 90% of the pre-COVID level in the country.

The airline already flies directly to New Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kochi and will add Amritsar, Thiruvananthapuram, and Ahmedabad to its schedule in the coming months.

Another carrier from the region, Singapore Airlines, currently flies to Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkata, Kochi, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Chennai, with more than 800 scheduled return flights in a month to India, a figure that increases even further to more than 1,000 when flights from SIA’s low-cost subsidiary Scoot are added to it.

Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 | 9V-SKT

Photo: Kevin Hackert | Shutterstock

Lufthansa is also anticipating a stronger demand in India and is even bringing back the Airbus A380 back to Delhi next year. Elise Becker, vice-president, Asia-Pacific, Lufthansa Group Airlines, said that the airline is at 100% recovery versus 2019 in India and that it is also one of the few markets that will see more frequencies than in 2019 by the end of the year.

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With inputs from Mint

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